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Thursday, 26 February 2015

Two new oxymorons - Belgium and female solidarity

I have been living and working in Belgium for 18 months and got a much better understanding of its dynamics than the average Dutch person who usually assumes that (s)he knows the Belgians as they speak Dutch too. Well perhaps the Flemish do speak Dutch but the meaning of the words is often entirely different than the Dutch assume. It's also illustrated by the annual Dutch celebration of the Day of the Dutch Dialect while Flanders then celebrates the Day of the Dutch language.

Some day - while watching the Belgian evening news - it struck me that the Belgian weather only applies to Flanders. The Flemish weather forecast stops at the French language border. Remarkably, the Dutch weather forecasts nowadays includes a part of the former Dutch territory in Flanders. However, I doubt that a Dutch invasion is eminent. That invasion already occurred decades ago when Dutch wealth taxes were still high.

Belgium is divided along 2 axis: language and politics. The North speaks "Dutch" and votes in accordance with its ample wealth. The South speaks French and votes in accordance with its lack of wealth. Some 100 yeas ago the wealth situation used to be reversed. Back then the South supported the North. Nowadays the North supports the South. Usually the North and South fight with each other about anything. There is only one group that is perfectly capable in uniting them: the Dutch.

I had to think of the above analogy when considering writing about female solidarity. The concept of female solidarity feels like another oxymoron to me (Wikipedia: a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction). Usually women fight with each other about anything. There is only one group that is perfectly capable in uniting them: men.

Over the years I have seen the striking difference between male coexistence and female coexistence in the work environment. Men tend to judge each other on input (number of hours at work) and output (results) while women judge each other on appearances (e.g., bags, dresses, hair, make-up, scarfs, shoes). Overdressing amongst women is viewed very different than amongst men. For tips, please see my daughter's blog ( which is entirely on fashion a.k.a. appearances.

I still remember the day that I entered the joint secretary office and only noticed crying women. I was immediately pushed out by my secretary with the clear instruction to come back in several hours. Obviously, I had to know what had been going on as I suspected the worst. Later it appeared that a cat had died that morning. I love cats too but I would not cry over them at work.

In my chats with Kenyan women I quite often heard the classic tragedy that a woman's best (female) friend had stolen her boyfriend. The excuse for that was even mind blowing: if a woman is not able to keep her boyfriend (or husband) to herself then she clearly does not deserve him and thus it is entirely justified to take him away from her. The lack of trust amongst women is beyond imagination to men. Women prefer having men as friends and also as colleagues. Probably as it results in less drama and also as men are much easier to manipulate. In that context it is hardly a surprise that women perceive men as rather simple human beings. I guess we are indeed.

By now I trust this blog article will have achieved Belgian and female solidarity, if only for an hour.